I’ll admit I was somewhat apprehensive about my first Christmas in Cambodia. Not only was it my first hot Christmas, but it was also my first Christmas away from home. I feared that whatever the day brought, it would not measure up to those long held familial traditions I treasure so dearly. Regardless of my misgivings, I knew there would be one reason for me to smile on 25th December. My big sister would be here! Fran lives in Australia with her partner Rob, and they flew to Cambodia last week to join in with the humid holidays! Having one family member here immediately made me feel much more Christmassy and without her, I suspect I would have felt homesick over the past week, an emotion with which I am rarely afflicted!
I booked three days off work to spend Christmas at the beach. To make up for not working, I offered to throw a Christmas party at Sovann Komar but as I wasn’t feeling very festive, I put off making many arrangements until Fran arrived. And Fran did not arrive empty handed! Her very generous colleagues and friends in Australia had donated 20 kilograms of presents for the children! Thanks to these wonderful people, we were able to give each of Sovann Komar’s 56 orphans and 12 additional children (the biological children of the foster parents) a Christmas present. With money kindly donated by my very own mother, I was able to purchase a very decent Christmas tree and a Santa outfit which Rob, in a moment of weakness, had agreed to wear. The Christmas tree was decorated with paper ornaments made by the children in their previous English lesson and I think it looked pretty damn good.
Every one of those painstakingly wrapped presents was handed out by “Santa”, with the help of his “elf” (Cambodian name pronunciations can be a bit tricky so I helped out donned in a green shirt and a bouncy Santa hat!). Rob was initially regretting his agreement to dress as Santa but as soon as he tried on his outfit in the middle of IBC, he took to the role with gusto! Interacting with every child, asking questions, and presenting their gift, he even got some of the younger children to sit on his knee! The smile on the faces of the staff and parents at Sovann Komar as they watched the children approach Santa was priceless. I also threw Christmas parties for my Grade 3 and Grade 4 classes, consisting of musical chairs, musical statues, pass the parcel, and a screening of The Snowman – they loved it! I have always heard the expression “Christmas is for the children” but, being rather materialistic, continued to believe it was mostly about me (and Jesus), but seeing the happiness and excitement on all of the children’s faces made me realise perhaps I was wrong!
The following morning, Christmas Eve, we were off to the beach! And for anyone who’s counting, yes this is my fourth trip to Sihanoukville in just over four months. I may have an addiction! We are staying in a delightful hotel call The Tamarind, whose pool I am currently sat beside as I type this blog. Whilst showing Fran and Rob around S’noukie we spotted a sign advertising Christmas Dinner for the following day. My prayers were answered!!! At least one of England’s traditions would be upheld. We enjoyed a BBQ on the beach on Christmas Eve and I introduced Rob to my favourite BBQ-ed squid – my nod towards the smoked salmon feast I always enjoy at my Godmother’s every year.
Christmas Day morning saw us opening presents by the pool at the hotel. I’d collected quite an impressive haul from my lovely Grade 4s – most of which were cute presents, a few of which were just weird! I may not have been snuggled up on my parents bed but I still felt very festive surrounded by wrapping paper and a few decorations sent over by my mum. To get us even more into the festive mood, Rob decided to get out his Santa hat and beard. We hadn’t really thought that through though and as soon as he came out, two little French boys who were staying in the hotel stared at him aghast! Rob waved and jumped into the pool and we continued to open presents. Not long after, the French boys came over for a photo with Santa Claus and two American girls appeared shortly afterwards for the same reason. Oh and then a retired English woman wanted to sit on Santa’s knee (not kidding), followed by a couple of the waitresses at the hotel! Santa was well and truly a hit!
Present opening followed by a sunbathe – not normal but damn good! Then it was time for Christmas dinner. As usual in Cambodia the food didn’t come out at the same time and it was all luke warm at best. But it was pretty good and the atmosphere was great – festive, jolly, relaxed.
Next on the Christmas agenda in the UK would have been a walk… how about a swim? Ok Christmas in Cambodia is starting to be pretty awesome!
Of course we haven’t forgotten the English peeps – time to Skype! Oh wait the entire internet is down at the hotel? It’s time to scour S’noukie for good wifi then! Mission almost accomplished and families greeted and Christmas wishes bestowed!
Sunset time! Can’t get much better than that now can you?
My first Christmas away from home was certainly different, and I still don’t quite feel festive, simply because it’s so hot here. But thanks to the numerous friends and family members who sent cards and presents, I feel I captured a certain something of the holiday season. Plus I got some good tanning hours in ahead of returning to the UK next month so who can complain! It may have not been a holiday snuggled up in front of the wood-burner, watching Eastenders, and eating Quality Street (oh wait we did do the last one), but I will never forget my Christmas in Cambodia.